And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection, (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.
2 Maccabees 12:46
We pray for the dead because we believe in the mercy of God. Many people cannot understand why Catholics pray for the dead. Some Catholics even say that the dead are already in heaven so there is no need to pray for them. Yet, is this really the case?
Sometimes, in our grief, we want to think of the best for our loved ones, but assuming they are in heaven is not the best for them. In the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “We believe in ... the communion of saints”, where those on earth are called the Militant Church because we constantly battle against evil. Those who have died are also members of the Church. Their membership does not end at their death. Those who have died and have been made perfect are in the presence of the Lord and are called the Triumphant Church because they have triumphed over evil and sin.
Most of us though will not die without a trace of sin. For these people, they have to remain in a state where they are still being perfected. These are still members of the Church and are called the Suffering Church. Their suffer because they know that they are close to being united with God but cannot because they still need to be made perfect before they can be united with the Lord.
As we live our lives, we ask our friends for prayers to help us in our needs. Those in the Suffering Church also need our prayers to help them in their needs towards perfection. This is why we pray for the dead and why 2 Maccabees says it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.
Many people do not understand the doctrine of purgatory and I believe this is what upsets them. Some Catholics even think Vatican II abolished Hell and Purgatory. Purgatory exists. Purgatory is not hell its sufferings are the same as hell, except for one thing: hope. There is hope in purgatory that one day, they will be united with God. How long that will take, we do not know because we do not know how time and space is measured in Purgatory.
One thing to remember also is hell also exists. We know there are people in hell but we do not know who. Those in hell do not need our prayers because they have totally rejected God. There is no hope for those in hell.
But Catholics are people of hope. We believe in the mercy of God and no matter how evil a person is, we always hope that he will make the decision to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior at his last breath. This is why we pray for the dead, because we hope in the mercy of God and we hope in the resurrection. We do not assume one is in heaven, but we hope that through the mercy of God, he will be allowed to be united with God.
Eternal rest grant to our loved ones, and even our enemies. And let perpetual light shine upon them.